- With how many clients do you work at one time? Do you have enough time to devote to our company to accomplish our goals? Will you return phone calls or emails the same day?
Asking other or former clients about the consultant’s responsiveness and attentiveness can be helpful. As can more pointed questions of the consultant. These questions all focus on the same point: How much attention can the consultant afford to spend on your needs? The number of clients a consultant can serve well varies with the kind of service provided and client involved. But some general rules apply: You want to have same-day response to questions or problems. If you’re undertaking a major restructuring, you probably don’t want your consultant working with more than two or three other clients. A caveat: Some owners and managers who’ve had bad experiences with overly invasive (and expensive) consultants warn that you shouldn’t be the only client a consultant has.
- Will you teach us to do this work for ourselves and become self-sufficient? How long will this take?
One common trap in using a consultant is becoming dependent on him or her. From the consultant’s perspective, this may simply be good business assuring future work for himself, herself or themselves. From your perspective, it may be little better than the status you had before you had the consultant come in.
By making training part of the consultant’s job, you can limit the chances of a prolonged engagement. Establish a schedule within which the consultant can accomplish his or her goals. Assign a staff person to work closely in this process-and learn everything he or she can.
- Have you written anything-published or not-that deals with issues like the ones this company faces?
Consultants love to write about their experiences and their theories. Sometimes this can be pretty rough reading, but it will usually help you understand how the consultant sees markets and business factors that may affect you. Also, management or technical literature can be a good place to look for consultants. While the latest management guru writing for the Harvard Business Review may be beyond your needs and means, you might be able to find useful experts in trade or regional newspapers and journals.
- How do you charge for services? Do your fees include travel time and other miscellaneous charges or are those billed separately?
There’s no set standard for paying consultants: Some work on a straight-fee basis, others work for a fee plus performance bonus, a few work on a contingency basis- tied to sales increases or cost reductions. As with paying any outside contractor, your concerns should be assuring a high quality of work and containing costs within a predetermined bud get. With consultants, focusing their use as specifically as possible will help accomplish both of these ends. Also, make it clear from the beginning what incidental expenses you’re willing to pay and how you’ll pay them. Consultants who’ve worked at or for large corporations may be used to expense accounts that you aren’t. Be very clear about how much you’re willing to spend on the whole project or series of projects. Insist that the consultant warn you-in writing-if the project won’t be completed on time and within budget.
- What kind of documentation will you give us when the project is completed? Who will own that documentation?
Benefits of hotel owners hiring accountants
Keeping a paper trail of the work a consultant does for you accomplishes several ends-all of them good. First, if the consultation has worked well, this will usually give you some forms and tools that you can use to improve some part of your performance. Second, it allows you to keep a record of the analyses made of your company and the responses you’ve taken. This kind of “scrap book” can be a big help when dealing with future problems or other consultants. Third, it makes clear what the consultant did-and didn’t do-while working for you. If any disputes should emerge over payment or ownership or confidentiality, you’ll have some support. In general, all work (including spreadsheets, computer programs, mechanical devices or literature) a consultant does for you is your property. Like most accountant companies all records and receipts should be kept.